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Lower Scajaquada Creek. The Scajaquada Creek watershed covers 29 square miles and includes the Towns of Lancaster and Cheektowaga, the Village of Depew, and the City of Buffalo. Credit: Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper; Inset Photo: Nicholas Pistory.

Empowering Communities Through Historical and Legal Analysis

By Newell Nussbaumer, Buffalo Rising

Buffalo, NY, June 23, 2021 - A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to a woman about the Scajaquada Creek and she told me a harrowing tale. She said that she once took her son to the the site where the Galleria Mall is located today, before the mall was constructed. The reason that she took her son there was to see one of the sources of the Scajaquada Creek – she said that there was the most beautiful ecosystem at the site, flourishing with wildlife. According to this woman, the source of the water was home to all sorts of aquatic creatures that she knew little about, although she had never seen anything quite like the natural habitat in her life, which is why she loved to visit the site. One day, she noticed a sign that the mall was coming, and she realized that everything that she and her son had come to love, would soon be paved over with asphalt, which happened soon enough.

Although she was vague in her description of the wildlife that she beheld at the site, I couldn’t help but think about the magical ecosystem that vanished overnight – an ecosystem that had been in place for centuries. Her story made me think of the Scajaquada Creek in ways that I never had before – I finally had a firsthand account of the environmental loss that took place all those years ago.

Such is the story of the Scajaquada Creek as a whole, with its sewer overflow systems and roadways built over the top of it. To think that we could destroy such a pristine waterway in so many ways is criminal. While there are relatively few people that understand and appreciate the natural resource that we have been losing for decades, there is a new movement underway that looks as if there might be some hope for the creek afterall.

While we can not turn back the hands of time, and recover so much of what we have forsaken, there is a thought that we can salvage parts of the creek… to make some amends that will help to turn the environmental tides.

To that end, New York Sea Grant, in partnership with the University at Buffalo Law School, has published an environmental law and policy resource guide for the Buffalo area. The guide is now in place “to better address comprehensive planning, local property rights and regulations, local resilience needs, and redevelopment opportunities related to environmental concerns and climate change.”

The Lower Scajaquada Creek: Empowering Communities Through Historical and Legal Analysis guide, developed by University at Buffalo Law School student Nicholas Pistory1, can assist municipal leaders, property owners, and conservation groups, as they interact with the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (an international agreement between the United States and Canada), Buffalo Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, and Buffalo Green Code. For example, as we move forward with laying out the vision for the Scajaquada Corridor, it’s important that we understand that there are many players involved, all of whom have varied interests. But each of these players must realize that the future of the Scajaquada Corridor depends on its overall (and hopefully improved) health moving forward.

The Scajaquada story map (the guide) expands upon earlier environmentally, historically, and culturally-focused work by such groups as Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper and the University at Buffalo School of Architecture’s Scajaquada Creek Uncovered preservation studio project. A legal analysis of several laws relevant to the creek area and key contacts have been added,” notes Pistory.

“The best outcome for this document is someone using it to help them have a voice in how the creek and the lands next to it can be utilized to positively affect everyone, whether you live a block from the creek or you walk your dog on the path next to it,” says Pistory2,  who researched and created the project as an intern for New York Sea Grant. “The hope is to have uses that are beneficial to people but simultaneously don’t disturb the naturalness of the creek.”

“There’s a lot of play between the different laws,” Pistory continues. “Being a law student, I know how to find these types of documents, but even I had trouble finding the Green Code and the LWRP. I wanted to make these resources more easily accessible (they are linked within the story map). The goal was to help educate the community on how they can play a role in how their waterways are utilized and impacted.”

Footnotes: 

1 Pistory is one of three inaugural New York Coastal Resilience Law and Policy Fellows. New York Sea Grant received legal capacity-building grants from the National Sea Grant Law Center to assess the need for, and create, a New York Coastal Resilience Law and Policy Fellowship Program in 2020. The University at Buffalo Law School, City University of New York Law School, and Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University are program partners.

2 From an article in the University at Buffalo School of Law


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New York Sea Grant (NYSG), a cooperative program of Cornell University and the State University of New York (SUNY), is one of 34 university-based programs under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant College Program.

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